Rushdie’s 11th novel is a sequel to his charming 1990 fable Haroun and the Sea of Stories, written—as was its predecessor—for one of its author’s two sons.
Visions of Kipling and J.M. Barrie may swim through readers’ heads as we meet 12-year-old Luka Khalifa, the child of his parents’ middle age (and younger sibling to the previously eponymous Haroun), and an eager listener to lavish tales of the Magical World dreamed into being by his father Rashid, a celebrated storyteller aka “the Shah of Blah.” When Rashid falls into a mysterious prolonged sleep (and hence a silence that raises memories of Rushdie’s own “silenced” life as a writer following the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini), everything Luka has ever learned tells him he must brave the dangers of the Magical World, steal the revivifying Fire of Life from the Mountain of Knowledge and restore his beloved dad to consciousness. Guarded by animal companions (Bear the Dog, and Dog the Bear) and bedeviled by a “phantom Rashid” (aka “Nobodaddy”), the young Prometheus undertakes his heroic deed. He wins a riddling contest against the cantankerous Old Man of the River, encounters vicious Border Rats and compassionate Otters and assorted celebrities (including Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee and The Terminator), en route to confronting the petty, egomaniacal gods of antiquity. Adult readers will rightfully delight in Rushdie’s brilliant wordplay throughout, but younger ones may yearn for less cleverness and more narrative. Fortunately, the story gathers whiz-bang velocity once Luka has heatedly persuaded the sulky gods and monsters that “it’s only through Stories that you can get out into the Real World and have some sort of power again.” Everything races briskly toward the satisfactory completion of Luka’s quest, and a quite perfect final scene.
A celebration of storytelling, a possible prequel to the book Rushdie is said to be writing about his own enforced “slumber,” and a colorful, kick-up-your-heels delight.